Climbing has a positive impact on low back pain

This prospective randomized controlled trial compared climbing versus no treatment to treat chronic low back pain.

A total of 30 patients with chronic low back pain were recruited and randomly assigned to 2 different groups: climbing and control. The inclusion criteria were defined as chronic low back pain, age between 18 and 45 years, body mass index lower than 25, and no climbing experience. Patients in the climbing group were instructed to climb 5 different climbing routes. A climbing activity of 10 sessions in 8 weeks, at least once a week with a minimum duration of 1 hour, was mandatory.

The participants were examined before (T0) and after therapy (8 weeks, T8) and after another 6 weeks (T14). The outcome was evaluated using Oswestry Disability Index, Visual Analog Scale (VAS), Likert scale, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Radiologists evaluating MRI were blinded. The study was performed as a single-center study.

Evaluating the Oswestry Disability Index, a significant difference in the time course between the 2 groups was detected (P = 0.022). Significant improvements comparing climbing and control group were also found when assessing VAS in a minimal finger-floor-distance position (P = 0.048). Patients in the climbing group showed a reduction in size of disc protrusion.

Climbing may be an effective and low-cost therapy option for people with chronic low back pain.

Clinical relevance:

Low back pain is a very common disease but still a challenge to treat. Therapy strategies vary from conservative ones, pharmacological treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and weak opioids, to invasive treatment with acupuncture, injections, and operative reconstruction. Some can be costly and not without risks. For instance, many people who use NSAIDs are at risk of common side effects such as gastrointestinal complications (irritation, ulcers, and bleeding) that may lead to hospitalization. Climbing could offer reduction of pain and better performance in daily life, because it offers a closed chain muscle training that has the potential to improve posture, perception of the trunk midline, and muscle control. Climbing may also lead to a better adherence to continuing treatment than traditional physical therapy and exercise due to a more exciting aspect of the sports activity.